ON MAY 11, the Supreme Court ruled to grant the petition for quo warranto against its own Chief Justice. The decision essentially declares the appointment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno void, and renders the position vacant. Eight justices voted to grant the petition while six voted against it.
The decision marks a win for the enemies of the Chief Justice, including President Duterte himself. Duterte now has free rein to choose Sereno’s successor— a privilege sure to temper the independence of the Judiciary.
The Editorial Boards of the Ateneo community strongly condemn the decision of the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, and unbecoming of a co-equal branch of government. The Supreme Court essentially capitulates itself to the wishes of the Chief Executive.
There are reasonable and serious allegations against Sereno that she needs to face, but the quo warranto petition is not the proper avenue to address these issues. As per the law, quo warranto is a special form of legal action used to resolve whether a person has the legal right to hold an office within a year of that person’s appointment. It should not be used to assess an official’s performance in the office. As such, the move tramples upon the constitutional right of the Senate as having the sole power to try and remove impeachable officials. It is a shortcut move designed to circumvent the uncertainties of a Senate trial, and to ensure the capture of the turbulent Court.
In this, the wisdom of Justice Carpio’s dissent becomes apparent: “While the failure to file [Statements of Assets and Liabilities] may also raise questions on the integrity, and thus the qualification, of an applicant for Justice of the Supreme Court, the relevant applicable violation, for purposes of removing such impeachable officer once already in office, is culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust. Only Congress, through the impeachment process, can remove an impeachable officer on these grounds.”
To staunch supporters of the President, the ousting of Chief Justice Sereno is a defeat of a long-despised enemy—a necessary act in the path towards change so adamantly promised to the people. Yet for others still, the decision was the final blow needed to win the slow, “legal” battle waged against the democratic values of the Republic.
History will have the final verdict on the Supreme Court’s actions today. To be sure, it will not judge it favorably. Future generations will have to live with the repercussions of the Court’s jurisprudence. The decision loosens the already frail checks and balances that form the bedrock of the Philippine Republic, and paves the way for full-on autocratic rule.
In truth, the Supreme Court has erred before. In 1973, the Supreme Court decided, in Javellana v. Executive Secretary, to affirm the then-newly minted 1973 Philippine Constitution, cementing the legitimacy of President Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorial government. In the years following Marcos’ rule, the 1986 Constitution would be drafted with the explicit purpose of ensuring the independence of the Judiciary.
The Javellana v. Executive Secretary case will go down in history as a time when the Supreme Court displayed its human fallibility. Today is another such day. The antics of the original complainant, Larry Gadon, throughout the impeachment process made a mockery of the honor of the Supreme Court. Emotionally charged proceedings turned the Court into a public spectacle. And now, its erstwhile leader is thrown to the wind.
This decision sets a dangerous precedent for future cases. The ease with which the quo warranto process was used now opens up all sorts of possibilities for the Executive to remove officials it finds irritating. The Judiciary, as a co-equal branch of government, is now much weaker for having severed its head in a bout of self-guillotine.
This point is only further punctuated by the recount for the Vice Presidential seat, which would later be passed for review to the SC. Add to the fact that current Vice President Leni Robredo has been excluded from the cabinet, and is hardly ever recognized by the President; the odds are not in the Republic’s favor.
The future is bleak. The youth, having yet reached the prime of their years, will bear the brunt of the consequences of this decision. But so long as there remains a people committed to the rule of law, there may be hope yet. The decision rendered today is a challenge— a challenge to protect the institutions that serve the Republic, and a challenge to secure the destiny of the nation.